April 23, 2012 § 5 Comments
Penny took the boys down to Massachusetts to visit her folks, leaving me in charge of, well, everything. Except, she had the boys, so everything but them. Which is an admittedly big “but.”
It’s not often I’m home alone for longer than a few hours, and when it happens, I can find myself paralyzed by the possibilities. So much to be done, and no one to answer to but the ever-hungry maws of our animals, clamoring from their respective paddocks/pens/shelters for the day’s sustenance. The cows at least are fairly polite about it, but the pigs? Good lord: You’d think their lives were just one grave injustice after another, with me being the sole perpetrator of their daily suffrage.
With the family away, and finding myself thrown somewhat off-kilter by their absence, I devoted my weekend to physical labor. We had plans to clear a small section of forest between the north wall of the small greenhouse and the stream, a tangle of balsam fir, some mature, some not, some dead or dying, and a few healthy and prime for the sawmill. The fir will be replaced with nut trees, a humbling proposition if ever there was one, as some of them may not come into their prime in my lifetime. Or at least, while I still have the teeth necessary to eat their offerings.
On Saturday, I rose early and did chores, happy to find all the critters – including Rye’s two-day-old trio of newborn doelings – hale and hearty. And while it’s probably my imagination, it seemed that for once the pigs were actually grateful for their milk and grain slurry. I rushed through breakfast, a bowl of kefir and blueberries eaten while standing at the kitchen counter, and found myself in the woods by hardly a hitch past 7:00, the saw gassed and oiled, hungry for the stand of wily fir. It was a job inflated by the mass of intertwined tops, the trees stuck together like Velcro by their gnarled branches. Plus, there was the greenhouse to consider, and of course because the greenhouse was in the light and to the south, all the trees leaned slightly in that direction, because as it turns out, trees are just like humans: They turn their faces to the sun, too.
I ran the saw, skidded logs, and piled brush for nearly five hours, at which point I broke to wolf down a few bacon-fat-seared venison steaks and a handful of greens purloined from the greenhouse. The steaks were a gift from a friend, and damned if they weren’t the tenderest animal bits I’d eaten in full moon or two. The greens weren’t bad, either, though probably could’ve done with some sort of dressing. As it was, I used them to mop up deer juice and this was a perfectly tidy arrangement.
After lunch, I hit the chainsaw again, and ran it hard until 3-ish, at which point it seemed reasonable to take a break. I’d burned through 7 tanks of fuel in the saw, a fair day’s work by anyone’s measure, and what with all the brush moving and log skidding, I was starting feel a bit peaked. Chores again, and 20 minutes of stretching to ease the kinks from my back. I’d somehow gotten Metallica’s “Ride the Lightning” in my head whilst working, so I slotted it into the player and turned it up loud, but after a while it began to wear on me and I shut it off. I guess I’m getting old, after all.
Chores again, and then I grazed for a while, ate some nuts, drank about half a quart of cream, and fried a few slices of what Penny endearingly calls “jowl junk,” brined and smoked bits of pig jowl that can almost pass for bacon. Thus fortified, I returned to the woods to drop a few more trees. At 7-ish, I called it quits.
With the boys home schooled, and me working at home, and Penny at home, our family’s lives are interconnected in ways that have become unusual in contemporary America. Most days, we eat three meals together, and the soundtrack to my working life is the near-constant clamor of the boys as their adventures – both imagined and real (is there a difference?) – unfold. You might think it distracting, and some days, it is. And I’d be lying if I said that I don’t look forward to their occasional absence, to the opportunity to absolve myself of responsibility and sink into whatever I choose.
Yeah, I look forward to that. But you know what I look forward to even more? Their return.
April 11, 2012 § 11 Comments
Sleepless in Waterville, Maine at 10:48 p.m., on the back end of an evening presentation at Colby College, I decided a night drive home was in order. I was feeling over-tired and vulnerable in that way that over-tiredness makes me feel, and I wanted nothing more than to be amongst my family, on this little patch of land I know so well. So I rose from the tousled sheets, grabbed my clothes from the rumpled heap where I’d dropped them an hour before, and sped into the night.
Waterville, Maine to Cabot, Vermont is a four-hour drive, so I tuned into WTOS FM, THE MOUNTAIN OF PURE ROCK!!!! and lost myself in hard rock flashback after hard rock flashback: Ozzy, ZZ Top, Metallica, Rush. Our 16-year old “new” Subaru has only one operating speaker, but damned that wasn’t exactly enough, and I let that little four-inch woofer thump for all she was worth. “I been bad, I been good, Dallas, Texas, Hollywood…. I ain’t asking for much…” Sometimes, there is nothing so fine as belting out the lines to a song you didn’t even know you knew.
For a while, coming out of Farmington, I tucked in behind a speeding Chevy pickup, someone who clearly knew the roads and where the cops hid, and I let him run interference on the empty ribbon of highway as we punched through the midnight air. Too fast, maybe, but then again, I’d argue that all motor vehicle travel is too fast. It’s simply a matter of what we’ve become conditioned to.
In Rumford, under the eerie, almost otherworldly plumes of smoke and steam from the paper mill, I lost my traveling companion, so I dialed it back. There was almost no traffic, save the occasional tractor trailer loaded with saw logs. I could see them coming from what seemed like miles away; the high cab lights like the eyes of a demented beast. Then they passed, a roar of diesel and rush of air, and it was hard not to wince at the speed and mass of it all, and how casually we place ourselves in proximity to such dangers. One slip, one drift… it would not end well. It was nearly 1:30 in the morning, but I felt both exhilarated and relaxed. Jethro Tull came on. “Sun streaking cold, an old man wandering lonely, taking time the only way he knows.” Another one I would never have thought I knew. And word-for-freaking-word.
I love coming home. I’d been gone for barely 36 hours, but it felt like too much. I rarely feel the need to leave home; it’s not that I don’t like seeing the world, or am not curious, or do not enjoy myself when I’m on the road; it’s just that I feel embodied by a sense that my life is here, and nowhere else. When I am gone, which does not happen terribly often, and when it does, not for terribly long, I have a hard time ignoring the feeling that my life is somehow on hold.
This is probably ridiculous, and I acknowledge the possibility that I am simply a stick-in-the-mud, having become complacent in the familiar comfort of my surroundings. Twenty-first century American culture does not generally revere a connection to place; we are bombarded with messaging tell us to get out and go, that much happiness is to be found far beyond the boundaries of our homes and communities. For some, I am sure, this is true.
Still, what strikes me is how infrequently we hear of the value inherent to staying home, to exploring and truly knowing our immediate surroundings. There’s all sorts of reasons for this, I suppose, but I suspect that chief among them is the fact that there’s little money in it. After all, it’s pretty damn hard to sell something to someone whose idea of adventure is exploring the wood lot below their house.